Ten years ago, self-publishing was a bit embarassing, it was like you couldn't get a traditional publisher interested so you just lumped along to somewhere you knew they'd have you. But with a bit of perspective on the phenomenon, and a pile of sucess stories, self-publishing through a website makes a lot of sense. You go through fewer hoops, the book is definitely published, you retain the rights and you get a bigger share of the royalties.
Perhaps you've just got something really niche and only want to publish a 1000 odd copies, (too small for a big publisher) or you just want to have a book as supplement to your business. You can lose money as well as making it and there's a great article on the pitfalls of self-publishing here (there seem to be a lot), but whatever the reason, self-publishing is definitely a viable option.
We do a quick run-down of five of the best self-publishing sites
nb: it seems if you pay for a publishing package, covering the initial costs, you get a greater share of the royalties.
One of the earliest and best-regarded self-publishing sites, it has published some of the most successful self-published books.
Ease of use: 4/5 good website, simple to understand
Presentation of the book: 3/5 you choose and make your own cover, or, you can pay them to do it for you.
Money: 2/5 buy a publishing package ranging from £299 to £999 which includes publishing and some support, you can bolt on extra services like copy-editing, a promo campaign for extra.
Distribution: 3/5 They say: "Lulu gives you access to the fastest and most extensive distribution system available anywhere." It's sold on Amazon and other online retailers and in Lulu's own nicely designed book store. It can also be made into an eBook readable on iPhone or elsewhere. Bricks and mortar book shops will be able to order a hard copy in if requested.
2. Amazon's Digital Text Platform
Yes everyone's heard of that little site called Amazon and lots of people go there to buy books, consequently it's a good brand name. They have launched a self-publishing platform for the Kindle (their eReader) which lets you upload text in ebook form to the Kindle shop, from where people can buy it.
Ease of use: 2/5 looks pretty straightforward, though making sure it ends up in a usable form on Kindle is more complicated than just sending off a word document and there are lots of how-to documents to read about publishing.
Presentation of the book: 3/5 it's a eBook so comes in standard Kindle format.
Money: 1/5 set your own price between $0.99 and $200, you get a slightly measly 35% royalties
Distribution: 1/5 well this is the catch, it's only available for Kindle, so your readers are restricted to people with those devices.
3. Zoe's Books
A small British self-publishing site that comes with editorial advice from its founder Zoe. Good for non-fiction, societies, small buisnesses or gurus who want a book behind them. Sounds like a small publishers might be a little more helpful than some of the off-the-peg juggernauts on offer.
Ease of use: 3/5 phone and email support and they take care of the publishing.
Presentation of the book: 3/5 looks fine, can do this yourself or ask them to arrange it.
Money: 3/5 Zoe's quote you a price depending on what services you require.
Distribution: 2/5 Either do this yourself: she suggests self-promoting it through groups or workshops, or they have a marketing arm which can do promotion for a price.
I am not impressed by the user interface for this site, but the editors seem to know what they're talking about when it comes to book publishing.
Ease of use: 2/5 not great. The site is not well designed and it's hard to find out information. It may be easier when you start writing. They provide qualified freelance sub-contractors to edit your work.
Presentation of the book: 3/5 They say "Our book covers are all custom-designed in full colour and at no time do we use templates." Judging from the covers on show, I give them a decent 3 stars.
Money: 3/5 You pay a fixed price up front for the copy-edit, design and publishing and then you get 100% of royalties
Distribution: 3/5 Your book will be made available through every major internet bookshop, including Amazon, Waterstone's, WHSmith, Blackwell etc. Not as a physical copy in actual bookshops. They ship worldwide.
An American site that might be worth a look if you don't mind selling liasing remotely and doing the money side in dollars.
Ease of use: 4/5 looks pretty straightforward
Presentation of the book: 3/5 custom-designed cover included in the upfront price. They claim they don't use templates.
Money: 2/5 quite pricey: buy a package ranging from $599 to $4200
Distribution: 3/5 Offers editor's awards which hilight strong books and give them some extra publicity. Otherwise sold through Amazon and other online stores. Publicity packages available.